Some Prose on Cons (Conventions and Shows)

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I think conventions and shows are wonderful resources for miniature enthusiasts. I’m going to outline some of the reasons I recommend attending them below.

Meet the Miniatures

Conventions and shows* with a contest offer the rare opportunity to see the work of a lot of different artists and hobbyists in person. Miniatures are three dimensional objects, so it’s difficult to capture the nuances of sculpting and paint with two dimensional photographs. I remember being very struck by how different the figures painted by the artists I admired looked like in person compared to photographs. Many were less perfectly smooth than they had appeared in photos, but they were also much more lively and interesting to look at in person. It was only with the opportunity to view other people’s figures in person that I realized that the goal of achieving  perfect smoothness that drove my study of miniature painting was distracting me from other valuable techniques and effects. Having the opportunity to view a number of well-painted miniatures in a large contest will show you that there are a myriad of styles and approaches to our hobby. It can also help inspire you and reignite your creativity.

*Look for more information on what a show is as compared to a convention at the bottom of this blog post, as well as a link to a list of shows and conventions you could attend.

Make the Miniatures

Do you have trouble finishing your miniature projects? Do you hesitate to push yourself to try unfamiliar effects and techniques?  Entering contests and shows is an excellent way to push yourself to meet deadlines and try new things. Painting for contests is not for everyone, and I have largely taken a break from it myself in recent years, but for many years I found working on entries to be very motivating in several different ways. (Luckily there are online contests, too, so even if you can’t get out to a convention you can still take part in those if you need a little push.)

Classroom 600Michael Proctor, Brice Cocanur, and Aaron Lovejoy – Instructors setting up a classroom for ReaperCon 2017. 

Shop the Miniatures (and accessories)

Most conventions and shows have a vendor area. Shopping at conventions is a great way to expose yourself to new product lines, try out miniature games, and save the cost and wait time of shipping. Again, as miniatures are three dimensional objects it’s not at all unusual to find a figure sculpt that you thought looked pretty meh in an online photo is actually much cooler than you thought when you get to look at it in person.

Improve Your Skills

Most conventions that are focused enough on miniatures to include a contest/show also feature classes and/or seminars related to painting, sculpting, and other hobby topics. These are a fantastic opportunity to learn from the talented artists you admire. I can categorically state that I would not be where I am today as a painter without the dozens of classes that I have taken at conventions over the years. Miniature hobbyists today have some terrific resources online with both free and pay videos, documents, podcasts, etc., but there is still no substitute for an in person class where you can observe more directly, ask questions about what’s confusing you, and get feedback on your own work. 

Adepticon boothBooths at conventions are often as fun to visit as they are to shop.

Meet the Makers

Another opportunity conventions and shows offer is the opportunity to meet the people who create the products you love. This includes both company representatives, sculptors, and painters of your favourite studio miniatures. At ReaperCon you can even get a tour of the factory to see how miniatures are made from start to finish! It is a lot of fun to meet the personalities behind the products. And to have the opportunity to give them your feedback to hopefully see more of what you love in the future.

Be Part of the Family

I think this is the thing that really keeps people coming back to conventions and shows. It is also the thing that doesn’t seem at all compelling to consider if you haven’t yet been to your first one. It is an almost magical feeling to be surrounded by people who share your enthusiasm for the miniature hobby. ReaperCon and AdeptiCon are probably the two places on earth where I don’t feel awkward wandering around wearing my painting visor. :-> And although a convention may not seem like the ideal activity for the more introverted among us, keep in mind that a lot of the other attendees are also introverts. And geeks and nerds. Chances are very high that if you’re a little awkward, or you need to take some time to yourself, or you have some mobility issues or other concerns, there are going to be a lot of people in the crowd who understand your situation., 

Conventions and Shows for Miniature Enthusiasts

This page originally included links to a variety of conventions and shows that host miniature hobby contests or other miniature-related events. That information is now available at the bottom of the Miniature Contests at Conventions and Shows article. 

I have referenced shows as distinct from conventions, and you might be wondering about that. Conventions tend to be part of the gaming side of things, and usually include game events as well as painting classes and contests (and panels and media and all kinds of things). Shows are more of a part of the historical miniatures side of things. These days the majority of shows actively include science fiction, fantasy, and horror themed miniatures as well as historical ones, and at some shows the non-historical miniatures may even dominate. There are a number of big shows in Europe, and I think this format may be more popular than the convention style events there. 

The contest at many shows is one where entered figures are judged against a standard and awarded a rank based on that. Some convention contests are switching over to this format, others continue to use the top three in a category win an award approach. I have an article with more information about the various types of contests. The other thing that is really cool about a show contest is that the miniatures are placed out on raised tables. So you really have an opportunity to look at them up close and from a variety of angles. (This is how we do it at ReaperCon, too!)

Shows sometimes have an intensive workshop you can sign up for that takes place the day or two preceding the actual show date, but very rarely have hands-on type classes during the show. Free seminars with slide shows are common, however. 

Many of the vendors at a show sell products that are unfamiliar to or difficult to access for gaming miniature hobbyists, like cool diorama bits, wood plinths, busts and historical figures, books and magazines related to the hobby, etc. Many of them also have no or poor online presence, so you’ll see things for sale at a show you might not easily see otherwise.

2 thoughts on “Some Prose on Cons (Conventions and Shows)”

  1. The MFCA is Miniature Figure Collectors of America, not Military and the Fantasy Sci Fi continues to grow each year.

    Great blog!

    Do you feel that there should be a rubric for judging that is (somewhat) universal? Eg, composition, blending, color, dry brushing, etc..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oops, I will have to try to fix that title.

      You pose an interesting question… Since most shows and conventions come into existence around a community, I think it would make sense for them to first consider the needs and preferences of that community when making their choices for judging criteria. Absolutely a contest should be judged consistently and impartially within itself, but I don’t know that it’s necessarily advantageous for judging criteria to be uniform between cons and shows. (It’d also probably be difficult to manage just for logistical reasons even if it were desirable.)

      When I attended World Expo 2017 it seemed like just about everyone scored a medal lower than they had at other shows. But that was pretty consistent, it wasn’t like something that got a bronze in Atlanta got a gold at World Expo while something that scored a gold in Atlanta took bronze at World Expo. So the judging was tough, but didn’t seem unfair or based on completely different standards. The pieces that took silver instead of gold were likely low to mid gold at the other show(s). (This was in the fantasy categories, I don’t have enough knowledge of the entrants of the historical categories to know if the same pattern occurred there.) There may have been a couple of awards I found anomolous, but my experience with just about every contest has been that I’m about 75-85% in line with the judges/voters, and then there’s a small area where I liked something a lot better or less than others. I imagine that’s pretty typical.

      I do think that it is pretty important to have painters and artists of a good skill level involved in judging and in developing the criteria for judging. Celebrity guest judges from other fields are much less likely to have an understanding of the techniques and process that go into figures and be tempted to vote for their favourite characters/story/colour/etc.


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